I wrote this four years ago and just thought this would be a great re-post. Eve (sometimes called Bri) is now a gypsy bluegrass musician living out of a van. Kiernan (sometimes called Kyle) is now a high school senior who regularly wields that ax himself. Nora moved to Hawaii to spare her view of the blue tarps. We’ve built a wood shed. Brad and I are still collecting wood like demented woodchucks and trying to stay warm. Last winter was the winter without winter. It hardly snowed and it never got to -40. This year … well, we just got started.
It’s -40 degrees! The furnace keeps coming on every five minutes. It’s tropical in the bedrooms and freezing in the basement. Click – bang — hum. Hot air flows from the vent, representing up-to five gallons of home heating a day — at $4.01 a gallon delivered, or $3.69 a gallon if you go to the bulk fuel sellers with portable cans and haul it yourself.Yeah, this is living, baby! Alaskan living! Greatest life on the planet if you’re tough enough to handle it! But you gotta heat your home!
There’s a huge stack of wood in my yard. Five cords, a winter’s wood supply, harvested from dead-standing in an old burn area, dragged out of the woods by hand, pulled in a beat-up old trailer behind our 20-year-old Jeep, neatly stacked, but sort of unattractive, covered in blue tarps to keep the snow off. My mother-in-law says “they” would never allow such a mess in the New England towns she’s lived in. Not sure who “they” are. Our neighbors don’t care. They have a full wood shed sided in blue tarps. My husband Brad has started buying brown and green tarps so they’ll blend better. That’s his New England upraising talking, trying to appease his mother Nora who thinks we’re abusing our neighbors. If you must have tarps, they should color-coordinate. Alaskan-raised as I am, I just care that they keep the wood dry.Thump-pause-thump-crack-pause-thump-crack-pause-thump-crack-pause — Brad is splitting wood at 40 below zero. It’s easier that way. The stove-length rounds just sort of shatter along linear lines when struck by a sharp ax. Our 14-year-old Kiernan is loading the wheel barrow with the split wood as it falls off the splitting round. In the light from the dog pen, I can see his cheeks glowing bright red. Our college-aged daughter, who still lives at home because rents are so high, comes around from the big wood pile, dragging the sled filled with birch rounds. She stops by the brush pile to collect an armload of kindling, burrowing under the green tarp. You’d never know there was a girl there. Eve is wrapped in Carhharts, gloves, a vaguely Russian looking hat, and Army combat boots she picked up at the consignment store.
Ordinarily, I’d be out there helping, but someone has to make sure dinner doesn’t burn and Nora is gone to some senior thing. The furnace clicks off. I type a few more words. I can feel cold starting to press on the house. I need to put the noodles to boil, spin the salad, set the table. Then I join the conveyor belt to carry the wood from the garage into the basement.A quarter-hour has passed and I’m waiting for them to come to dinner. I can hear Brad and the kids working on the fire. The wood stove is in the basement, which means the cold presses down the chimney. You have to “break the bubble” to get the heat to draft, otherwise, it will fill the house with smoke. We only do this once a week when we clean the firebox and have to let the chimney go cold. It’s Kiernan’s turn to put the gas hiking stove in the outside clean out to establish a draft. He comes by me on his way to the back door. His nose is running, his cheeks are apple-red. Brad is reminding Eve of the order that must be followed in building a fire — newspapers crumpled, kindling sticks (mostly collected from our yard), split wood. We’ll throw a round on top after the fire is going nicely.
The furnace is on again. Once the fire is going, the furnace stays off — sometimes it doesn’t come on for days, but usually it’s what wakes me in the morning. It’s more effective than my alarm clock, which just says its time to go to work. The furnace is accompanied by the illusionary sound of coin money tinkling up the chimney — there goes a dollar, two, three …
Throw another log on the fire.
Source: Staying Warm at -40